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Lust and Life: Unearthing Our Authentic Selves

A Review by Ted Senecal

Robert Barzan, Sex and Spirit: Exploring Gay Men's Spirituality. (San Francisco, CA: White Crane Newsletter, 1995)($12.95, P.O. Box 170152, San Francisco CA 94117)

The unexamined life is not worth living.


Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Mark Twain

What is Spirit? Is it a ghost? As a catholic child it seemed to me to be a white bird or tongues of fire over the heads of the sequestered apostles on Pentecost. It was a mystery, unseen and a definition could only be conjectured at. Still, I'd heard that only in a Faithful Heart could Spirit be real and so, wishing to please all of the powerful adults around me I worked hard at having a Faithful Heart. I knew that as surely as they built big expensive churches and some people got to dress in robes and speak latin and talk directly to God on my behalf and as surely as the passing of the collection basket every Sunday, Spirit must be real. The nuns were quick to dispel any possibility of my belief that the ghost stories we merrily scared each other with on sleepover nights with friends were not real but that the guy who they told us raised the dead, changed water into wine and floated up into heaven in front of everybody after he'd been definitely dead for three days was real- Huh? In about third grade it became quite clear to me that I would be responsible for creating my own belief and so my own Faithful Heart.

It probably wasn't until junior high school when at a pep rally the concept of "school spirit" became available to me. Finally I understood how Spirit was something that I could be involved in, something within me. It was not the white "soul" of a child being blackened by varying degrees of sin as the nuns told me. It was a feeling, for lack of a better word. Ultimately I understood it as a body of feeling that was as surely mine as is this flesh: a body of experience and knowledge that transcended the body of me and included all knowledge, all experience past and yet-to-come and even as the stuff of Creators it was made of Love. Still, in my formative years it was the nuns and priests and teachers and parents and cheerleaders who shaped my view of Spirit even as those same people shaped my view of work, society, finance, relationship and yes, even sex... especially sex.

Now, I can't be sure what hidden agenda any of those early influences may have had as they craftily carved out my view of sex but it seemed that even as I had discovered that I must harbor a secret truth as regarded my belief in Spirit I also was compelled to conceal the truth of my belief about sex and all the while I was taught, guided and threatened with the consequences of lying. Huh? It has been troublesome and to this day I feel confident that I will be unravelling the beliefs of others to whom I could not as a child or even as an infant say "NO!" for the rest of my life.

Happily, even now as friends decline and die around me and are physically beaten for being or are simply driven to a desperate, hidden closet in the dark bars and bath houses, addictions and two-week 'relationships' of the night time of "gay liberation" I have help as a human/male/spiritual/sexual being to come out and address the chosen blindness and carefully crafted lies that keep all men painfully from themselves. In one slim volume entitled Sex and Spirit: Exploring Gay Men's Spirituality as contributed to and edited (apparently single- handedly) by obert Barzan of the White Crane Press comes a collection of essays that examine the history, mythology and contemporary expressions of Spirit in the homoerotic male.

Since 1989 the White Crane Newsletter has chronicled what, until now, has been hidden if not forbidden truths about the homosexual male subculture through essays, poems, stories and reviews. Barzan has described two objectives for his quarterly publication, 1) That it be a forum where we can share with each other what we have found both helpful and not helpful for our spiritual development, and 2) that what is written be a source of encouragement in one's own life journeys. In that the greater portion of the journal is contributor-written a wide range of points of view exist throughout as well as a fascinating array of talent and scholarship exhibited by men of profoundly diverse religious philosophies, nationalities, scholastic backgrounds and sexual persuasions. It is from these offerings that Mr. Barzan has assembled the 140-page collection of beliefs which I cherish now among my most treasured spiritual literature.

In the introduction the editor addresses gay men who's requirement of these wisdoms is undiminished by their exclusivity from the greater whole of society and I quote: "Gay men enjoy a freedom not shared by most other people in our society- Because we have been excluded from full participation in traditional mainstream religions, we are free to reflect on and integrate our life experience, creating our own personal and communal spirituality. We are not bound to the language, the images, the rituals, nor to the authority of institutions or other individuals." He goes on to say that despite the pain and problems of this freedom, "We go beyond simple self-discovery and make progress in the virtues that are a vital concern of a healthy spirituality:love, generosity, forgiveness, wonder, moral outrage, courage, compassion and much more.

And yet, in spite of it's focus on the history, mythology, politics, religion and practices of "gay" men it is, to my mind a book for all men who seek. Whether it is a place in the world or their place in a family or a primary relationship, whether it is a way out of 1onliness or a way to a God one can welcome without reservation: even if it is the desire to understand the sensibilities of another gender, Barzan has gifted us with a smorgasbord of care and somewhere within it lies an answer which only requires an idea and the faith of a seeker.

Consider the following quotes from his introduction to Sex and Spirit and in your mind eliminate the specification for "gay" men and see if it is not a positive agenda for all men seeking initiation and healing from any wounding. (Brackets are mine): "For most [gay] men there came a time when we yelled an emphatic "NO!" to the dictates of society, at least to some of the dictates, and we began travelling our own roads to self- discovery. Often with much struggle we allowed our natural, authentic [gay] selves to be. We realizd that society lied to us about [gay] identity, and about many other aspects of life, and that we could never be fulfilled as human beings in any other way than to be our [gay] selves. We began to neutralize the messages of society. We accepted and with pride embraced our gayness [Selves]. We came to realize that we are a unique and integral part of the web of life on this planet. Can a healthy spirituality begin at any other point? Our sexual identity is just one area in our lives where this process is operative. Our creativity, emotions, relationships, talents, even our bodies, long for a similar liberation. there is much more truth yet to be discovered about ourselves and about our world, and an essential part of the spiritual journey is learning to live our lives from a foundation of personal authenticity."

As I sit here writing I know that there is no single Bible or Torah, no media product, talk show host, fitness guru or newage icon that knows all of me as well as I inherently do and so I choose my growth aspects from among their countless offerings and with gratitude embrace that which is divinely my own as the gift of truth and discard that which is not my truth so that it might be freely embraced by another who recognizes their own essential self within it.

Listed within the contents of Sex and Spirit are nearly thirty morsels of vision under four section headings. The first of these is "Traditional Paths" which includes M.E.N. Magazine editor Bert Hoff in a fascinating interview with Dagara tribesman Malidoma Some revealing how gay men are celebrated in the religious life of an African village. Here you'll also find a story curiously ommitted from our studies of Greek mythology wherein the god Apollo is consumed by his passion for a beautiful mortal youth named Hyacinthus with whom he engaged in joyous sports of tenderness and atheletics until the day when, during a discus throwing match the youth in his enthusiasm and joy in the sport was accidentally killed by a blow to the head from the discus Apollo had thrown. As the god held the lifeless body and wept he created the passionate purple spring flower Hyacinth from the spilled blood of the lost young lover as a memorial to pure love.

The next category, "Gay Identity" includes "Coming Out: The Gay Hero's Journey" by Wilfred Koponen which examines the archerypal progression to maturity as described in the writings of Joseph Campbell, "Keep Gays Out of the Military: Another Side to the Ban" by Tundra Wind, "More Than the Sum of Parts: Rescuing The Body from Fundamentalism: by Dartell g.h. Schramm and "Goddess in Every Man: Feminine Archetypes for Men" by Josef Venker.

The final section is devoted to "Finding Our Way" and includes articles of vision for the new millenium including a moving essay by Terence Huwe entitled, "AIDS, Service, and the Renewal of the Heart: A Personal Reflection", "Reinhabiting: Finding Love in Nature" by Robert Barzan, "The Only Game in Town: Finding the Path to Enlightenment" by Bert Herrman and the inspiring "Odyssey of a Zen Teacher: Flourishing in the Zen Tradition" by Tundra Wind. It is my imagination that any man who has undergone a personal odyssey, even if only to the point of having picked up and read this review, will recognize issues formerly defined largely by the heterosexual majority involved in men's work. It is through the wisdom shared in this book that gay-identified men may now freely join the ranks of their brothers, mentors and students in the search for Spirit. It is a Seattle SuperSonics championship. It is an unexpected raise in pay or the best chili ever or a new son or a new lover or a new car. It is, at last, a bridge for us to cross through Spirit, in flesh while the chasm closes below and becomes a casualty of a Faithful Heart.

Finally the book is quite simply dedicated "to those following the path of compassion" We, all of us thank you Barzan.

Ted Senecal, raised in Seattle, has been a wordsmith most of his life. Throughout nearly 30 years in the theatre he specialized in Shakespeare. He is the author of poems, short stories, articles, essays and reviews and credits his affiliation with the men of the Seattle Men's Wisdom Council and the Men's Evolvement Network for causing him to, at long last, share his gift of words and ideas.

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